Because long-term opioid use often begins with treatment of acute pain (1), in March 2016, the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain included recommendations for the duration of opioid therapy for acute pain and the type of opioid to select when therapy is initiated (2). However, data quantifying the transition from acute to chronic opioid use are lacking. Patient records from the IMS Lifelink+ database were analyzed to characterize the first episode of opioid use among commercially insured, opioid-naïve, cancer-free adults and quantify the increase in probability of long-term use of opioids with each additional day supplied, day of therapy, or incremental increase in cumulative dose. The largest increments in probability of continued use were observed after the fifth and thirty-first days on therapy; the second prescription; 700 morphine milligram equivalents cumulative dose; and first prescriptions with 10- and 30-day supplies. By providing quantitative evidence on risk for long-term use based on initial prescribing characteristics, these findings might inform opioid prescribing practices.
What is already known about this topic?
Based on the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, literature supporting long-term opioid therapy for pain is limited; research suggests an increased risk for harms with long-term opioid use. Early opioid prescribing patterns for opioid-naïve patients have been found to be associated with the likelihood of long-term use.
What is added by this report?
In a representative sample of opioid naïve, cancer-free adults who received a prescription for opioid pain relievers, the likelihood of chronic opioid use increased with each additional day of medication supplied starting with the third day, with the sharpest increases in chronic opioid use observed after the fifth and thirty-first day on therapy, a second prescription or refill, 700 morphine milligram equivalents cumulative dose, and an initial 10- or 30-day supply. The highest probability of continued opioid use at 1 and 3 years was observed among patients who started on a long-acting opioid followed by patients who started on tramadol.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Awareness among prescribers, pharmacists, and persons managing pharmacy benefits that authorization of a second opioid prescription doubles the risk for opioid use 1 year later might deter overprescribing of opioids. Knowledge that the risks for chronic opioid use increase with each additional day supplied might help clinicians evaluate their initial opioid prescribing decisions and potentially reduce the risk for long-term opioid use. Discussions with patients about the long-term use of opioids to manage pain should occur early in the opioid prescribing process.